Rushed Reactions: #5 Saint Louis 83, #12 NC State 80 (OT)

Posted by rtmsf on March 20th, 2014

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Three Key Takeaways.

The Billiken, Along With the Rest of Us, Had No Idea What Was Coming

The Billiken, Along With the Rest of Us, Had No Idea What Was Coming

  1. The Hack-a-Pack Strategy Worked. We were prepared to write about how defensive-profile teams that don’t have great offenses simply don’t do very well in the NCAA Tournament (still true, by the way), but Saint Louis’ hack-a-Pack strategy took the wind out of those sails. With roughly three minutes to go and the Billikens mired in a game-long offensive funk, Jim Crews instructed his players to start fouling NC State on every offensive possession. It was a reasonable enough strategy to lengthen the game, and especially so given that the Wolfpack came into tonight shooting a chilly 66.3 percent from the line on the year. Still, few thought it would actually work. Prior to that point, NC State had owned the game throughout, playing with confidence and appearing by all indications to be the superior squad. Over the next 17 possessions, however, the Wolfpack went 9-of-20 from the foul line and turned the ball two times. This combination of closeout incompetence was just enough to allow Saint Louis to make a methodical run to tie the game with 20 seconds remaining and send the game into overtime. But it should have never gotten to that point.
  2. Decisions, Decisions. NC State didn’t lose this one simply because of missed foul shots. There were questionable coaching decisions and player decisions alike. The two most notable were killers. With 10 seconds remaining, Mark Gottfried called timeout to set up a play for his team, tied and possessing the ball. Given that the Wolfpack have one of the three best offensive players in America on their team, a fair assumption would have been that the ball would go to TJ Warren. Saint Louis did a great job denying him the pass, but point guard Tyler Lewis bailed out on the play far too soon, electing to dribble penetrate with seven seconds to go and throwing up a reasonable look that rimmed out on him. It wasn’t a horrible shot by any means, but you have to wait a tick or two more to get your professional-lever scorer the ball in that spot. The second odd decision came in overtime as NC State had cut the lead to a single point with 30 seconds remaining. The objective, of course, was to foul the Billikens immediately. The foul ultimately came from, who else, TJ Warren. It was his fifth. Why was he in the game at that point? The correct decision would have been to remove him on defense and reinsert him on offense. Again, when you have an elite scorer on your squad, you have to find ways to use him correctly. Not all players are built equally. Astonishing.
  3. Saint Louis’ Ceiling. This was an amazing comeback, to say the least, and it worked exactly as Crews and his staff hoped it would. But how the Billikens found themselves down double-figures to a team that sneaked into the Dance by the skin of its teeth should be somewhat alarming. This team has not played well in a month, and it was never confused with an offensive juggernaut anyway. But if Saint Louis hopes to get to its first Sweet Sixteen since the 1950s, it will have to find a better way to produce points than depending on a gimmicky fouling strategy down the stretch of games. Both Louisville and Manhattan are stronger defensive units than NC State, yet the Wolfpack where able to easily hold Saint Louis in check for much of this game.

Star of the Game. Rob Loe, Saint Louis. Loe’s 22-point, 15-rebound performance on 8-of-11 shooting (4-of-8 from three) in 40 minutes of action was the sole offensive bright spot for the Billikens tonight. They needed every bit of it. His teammate Jordair Jett was primarily responsible for SLU’s comeback scoring, but Loe hit a huge three that kept the Billikens alive when he cut the lead from eight to five points with 1:24 remaining. He also made a late layup to keep the lead at one and force NC State to again make pressure free throws on the other end — the subsequent 1-of-2 from TJ Warren allowed Jett to hit the game-tying layup on the next possession.

Sights & Sounds. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced the juxtaposition of emotions that these two fan bases went through here tonight. The NC State fans (mostly behind where I was seated) were agonizing with every missed free throw down the stretch, while the Saint Louis group — quiet for 37 minutes — roared with approval upon every chip into the Wolfpack’s armor. There will be some very unhappy folks down in Raleigh tonight — NC State gave that one away.

What’s Next? Saint Louis advances to play against the winner of #4 Louisville and #13 Manhattan on Saturday. The Billikens made the same round last year where they lost to a partisan West Coast crowd pulling for Oregon in San Jose.

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